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Preparing for Biological Threats:

Are We Ready to Prevent a
Global Catastrophe?

Biological threats — whether naturally occurring, deliberate, or accidental — can kill millions and pose
catastrophic risks to a country’s security, economics, and communities.

Risk of a catastrophic biological event is magnified by
Global travel

It only takes 36 hours for a pathogen to travel to any continent in the world

Terrorist and state interest in WMD

Terrorists have shown interest in conducting biological attacks and some states have had or are suspected of having biological weapons programs


By 2030, two-thirds of the world's population will live in urban areas

Rapid technology advances

New technologies make it easier, cheaper, and faster to create and engineer pathogens

These factors create an urgent need to strengthen global health security.

Bio threats are expensive
  • 2001 Anthrax letter attacks cleanup
  • $800 million
  • 2014-16 West Africa Ebola response
  • $4.5 billion
  • 2002-03 SARS outbreak cost to global economy
  • $54 billion
  • Estimated costs of a new influenza pandemic
  • $3 trillion
    Deliberate risks are rising

    Jihadist groups, disgruntled actors, and domestic right-wing groups present a "significant CB [chemical or biological] threat to the United States within the next decade."

    — Report from Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START)

    The time to prepare is now

    “At some point, we will likely be attacked with a biological weapon, and will certainly be subjected to deadly naturally occurring infectious diseases and accidental exposures, for which our response will likely be insufficient.”

    — Bipartisan Report of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense

    Consequences can be staggering
  • 1918 Influenza pandemic deaths
  • 50 million people in 12 months

  • New influenza pandemic
  • 30+ million deaths in 6 months

  • Unknown or engineered virus
  • 150+ million deaths*

    *Estimate based on Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security Clade X Exercise Model

    Here's how it could happen

    Any country is vulnerable

    The moment to prepare is now

    Keep scrolling to explore scenarios

    A catastrophic biological event
    could happen here

    Terrorist activity

    Weak health system

    Poor infrastructure

    Something unusual is happening

    A large number of people are showing the same symptoms – detection is critical

    Available vaccines and medicines don’t work, and patients begin to die

    New cases appear in new places

    Confusion spreads among public health officials

    The outbreak spreads rapidly

    The source remains unknown

    Case counts and fatalities continue to rise

    Data is hard to collect and share

    Outbreak spreads internationally

    An engineered pathogen is detected

    Signs indicate it was deliberately released

    How could this at-risk country
    be better prepared?

    International lab finds pathogen was engineered to resist treatment

    Terrorist group claims responsibility for releasing pathogen

    A laboratory in another country with poor biosecurity suspected as source of pathogen

    How do we prevent this scenario
    from becoming a reality?

    Investing in preparedness now will prevent outbreaks from
    becoming global catastrophes

    “On the day after a catastrophic biological event, what would we wish we had done to prevent it?”

    — NTI Co-Chair Sam Nunn


    Conduct external assessment of all countries

    Identify and track capability gaps

    Establish national action plans with specific biosecurity milestones

    Support countries requiring assistance

    Build political will and finance capacity building

    Develop regional and international biosecurity partnerships

    Countries are not prepared

    Only 10% of all countries have national action plans in progress

    Only 20% of countries have completed national action plans

    Only 5% of all countries are assessed as prepared to prevent, detect, and respond to outbreaks


    Implement national oversight program for biosafety and biosecurity, including safe and secure use, storage, transport, disposal, and consolidation of pathogens in a minimal number of facilities
    Train biorisk experts and promote rapid, effective, and culture-free diagnostics
    Consider emerging risks and implications of technology; promote a culture of responsibility

    Too few countries have taken steps to prevent deliberate events

    Countries with published
    Joint External Evaluations


    Employ rapid diagnostics and real-time electronic analysis and reporting
    Train disease investigators to map cases and contacts
    Report outbreaks transparently to international organizations (e.g., WHO, OIE)

    Countries are not equipped to
    rapidly detect a biological event

    Only 24% of assessed countries can demonstrate or sustain timely and accurate disease reporting

    Only 14% of assessed countries have a secure, integrated, electronic tool that allows for data analysis at all levels of the health system


    Establish an emergency response coordination effort or incident management system
    Maintain an emergency operation center capable of activating within two hours of an early warning
    Create effective links between public health and security authorities

    Countries are not ready to respond

    Only 37% of assessed countries have established emergency response coordination mechanisms

    Only 24% of assessed countries have national emergency operations centers that can be activated within two hours of an early warning

    Only 44% of assessed countries demonstrate a link between public health and security authorities, and there is no clear international lead for response efforts for a deliberate biological event

    “The next epidemic could originate on the computer screen of a terrorist intent on using genetic engineering...”

    — Bill Gates

    Global investments in pandemic preparedness — a critical component of biodefense — are a small fraction of overall global investments in defense and security.


    Now is the time to get prepared

    It’s not a matter of whether the next pandemic will occur; it’s a matter of when.

    Join us to strengthen global health security and take action to improve biosecurity

    Stay engaged and updated

    Sources "A National Blueprint for Biodefense: Leadership and Major Reform Needed to Optimize Efforts," Bipartisan Report of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense "The Economic Impact of Global Health Security," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "Remembering the 1918 Influenza Pandemic," Center for Disease Control and Prevention "World Bank Says Flu Pandemic Could Cost $3 Trillion," Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy "Clade X Pandemic Exercise Highlights Policies Needed to Prevent or Reduce the Worst Possible Outcomes in Future Pandemics," Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security "The Cost of Ebola," The Lancet Global Health "How to be Ready for the Next Influenza Pandemic," The Lancet Infectious Diseases "Estimating the Global Economic Cost of SARS," National Center for Biotechnology Information "Anatomizing Chemical and Biological Non-State Adversaries," National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism "The Biological Threat," Nuclear Threat Initiative, "Anthrax Postal Cleanup Cost $800 Million, Experts Say," Nuclear Threat Initiative Prevent Epidemics "JEE Dashboard," World Health Organization "Strategic Partnership for International Health Regulations (2005) and Health Security (SPH)," World Health Organization
    All sources were accessed in November 2018